Looking at two snapshots capturing moments of change in Vermilion

By: Rich Tarrant

In 1927 a 38-year-old Methodist minister named Earl Thompson English arrived in Vermilion with his wife Zella and their children Jean and her brother Robert. It was, incidentally, the very year Vermilion’s Methodist church, which had experienced a significant decline in active membership, had merged its congregation with the town’s First Congregational church. Rev. M.L. Weekly, the former minister of the Congregational church (1924-1927) had been called to serve elsewhere, ergo the congregation had chosen Rev. English to serve their needs.

For 109 years previous to this time as many as 41 ministers had guided the congregation. Consequently, by the time Mr. English came to their pulpit they were accustomed to seeing a new face in front of the congregation every three to four years or so. But unbeknownst to them this was going to be different. Rev. English went on to serve the church for 30 years as the head pastor and eighteen more as Pastor Emeritus.

The photo on the left is that of Reverend and Zella English standing in front of the church parsonage on the northwest corner of Ohio and Washington streets. According to church records in 1850, the Congregational Church purchased the entire village Block 12 from James Ford. Block 12 is bounded on the north by Columbus Street (present Conrail tracks), on the east by Washington Street, on the south by Ohio Street, and on the west by Perry Street. The block included 17 lots, and the first record of taxes show a yearly tax of $3.47 for the year 1853. (What a deal.) However, it will be noted that this parsonage was not immediately built.

The first parsonage was said to have been on the corner of Columbus and Perry Streets. [Note: that would have likely put it in the middle of what is now the path of the railroad tracks.] It was said to have been old and in disrepair. So – finally by 1871 the trustees agreed to accept the draft of the parsonage house presented by the pastor; by the end of the year, a large new parsonage [in the picture] stood on the NW comer of Ohio and Washington Streets. Anyway, by the time these snaps were taken (the early 1940s) the parsonage was one of the older homes on the block.

Zella is also in the photo on the left. There she is standing with her father, John McLaughlin, who is holding the hand of their neighbor – little Leslie Roberts-Ennis. Leslie is the eldest daughter of George and Grace Roberts who, then, lived next door to the parsonage. They are standing in front of the small garage behind the parsonage on the Washington Street side of the property. The garage was not used so much to house an automobile, as it was to provide Mr. McLaughlin with a little workshop. I don’t really know the reason, but I was always smitten by the fact that Mr. McLaughlin had been (or was) a blacksmith by trade. I have some vivid memories of him both mowing the lawn and sharpening the blades of his “push mower” in the garage at the parsonage. He also spent a good deal of time with “the boys” down at Becker’s blacksmith shop. The old shop, once located on the north side of Liberty Avenue, has long since been replaced by a part of the Ritter Public Library. Mr. McLaughlin died in 1959 at the tender age of 98.

Upon Rev. English’s official retirement in 1956 a young minister named Rev. James W. Bidle and his family came to Vermilion to serve the church. The Bidle family took up housekeeping in the parsonage and Rev. and Mrs. English purchased a home on Jefferson Street next to their former neighbors George and Grace Roberts. Whether the old parsonage was just in need of too many repairs or, for some other reason, it was deemed inadequate and was sold. It should be noted that during the same time period a new Congregational church was built on State Street (1957).

In retrospect, the late 1950s and early 60s was a time of great change everywhere in Vermilion. The Ford Motor Company built a large auto assembly plant just east of town. People were literally flooding into the sleepy village from the south and east. New homes were springing up in the fields and woodlands surrounding the town. And the cottages at Sunnyside, Vermilion-on-the-Lake, Elberta Beach and Nokomis Park were being transformed into year-round homes. Suddenly, many persons who had been born and raised here were the ones with the “funny accents” and customs.

American author Eudora Welty was of the opinion that, “A good snapshot keeps a moment from running away.” I’m real glad these didn’t getaway.

Ref: Special Thanks to the Ennis-Roberts Family photo archive; History of Vermilion’s Congregational Church, Betty Trinter; http://www.vermilionohio.org/vconghist.html.

Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant has agreed to share many of the photos and stories he has acquired from the former Vermilion News and other local sources with the readers of the Photojournal. Rich is the youngest son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: rnt@twc.com


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